Sunday, April 22, 2018

Now on Netflix: Wind River (2017)

Wind River (2017) - Written and Directed by Taylor Sheridan; Starring Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen, Graham Greene, Jon Bernthal, Kelsey Asbille.

By Kenny Howell

What made Taylor Sheridan's To Hell or High Water work so well was how seamlessly he interwove a story about two brothers robbing banks with a social commentary about the current financial state of the common man in America.

His follow up Wind River tries to take that same approach, but only by dancing around the outside of it. There is a story about the treatment of Native Americans as a whole, but also the women. Little bits are brought up about this, but they seem out of place in this pretty good mystery about what happened to a young woman who is found barefoot, dead in the snow high up in the mountains of Wyoming.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Now on Amazon Prime: The Circle (2017)

The Circle (2017) - Directed by James Ponsoldt; Written by James Ponsoldt, Dave Eggers; Starring Emma Watson, Tom Hanks, Patton Oswalt, John Boyega, Ellar Coltrane, Glenne Headly, Bill Paxton, Karen Gillan, Nate Corddry.

By Kenny Howell

Tom Hanks seems destined to turn all of Dave Eggers work into mediocre or bad movies.

This is the second film in recent years of Hanks producing and starring in an Eggers work, the first being A Hologram for the King, which is the mediocre one.

The Circle is the bad one. It is story about a giant tech company, something like a cross between Google and Facebook, that is starting to make that leap into the powerful overload who is always watching us.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Now on HBO: Back to the Future (1985)

Back to the Future (1985) - Directed by Robert Zemeckis; Written by Robert Zemeckis, Bob Gale; Starring Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Crispin Glover, Thomas F. Wilson, Billy Zane.

By Kenny Howell

I hadn't see Back to the Future since I was about 9 years old. Probably about the same time the second one came out, not sure if it was before or after, but it was around the same time.

It isn't one of those nostalgic films I look back on, though I did really want those sweet glasses from the second film you got with a personal pan pizza from Pizza Hut. But it is looked back on high regard by the general population, so I thought it was time to revisit it when I came across it on the HBO Go app because I remember almost nothing about it.

The first impression I got is just how different big budget summer films were back in 1985. Back to the Future starts literally with clocks ticking, and little inventions working together to feed Doc's dog Einstein. It is a couple of minutes before we even get a character, Michael J. Fox's Marty who blows himself away with his own guitar jam on a giant speaker.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Now on Amazon Prime: Brad's Status (2017)

Brad's Status (2017) - Written and Directed by Mike White; Starring Ben Stiller, Austin Abrams, Jenna Fischer, Michael Sheen, Luke Wilson, Jemaine Clement, Mike White.

By Kenny Howell

I have always had a bit of trouble connecting with Mike White's work.

There are some bright spots, like School of Rock or the TV show Enlightened, which should have received several more seasons. But others like Chuck & Buck, The Good Girl and Year of the Dog had a dissonance to them.

Brad's Status probably does have that as well for some people, especially based off its 6.5 IMDb rating. Ben Stiller plays a depressed man that really doesn't have anything to be depressed about. He has a happy marriage, a wonderfully talented son who may get into Harvard, and he is doing OK financially. But, of course, that is not how depression works. Brad's core group of friends from Tufts have gone off to wild success, and he has been left running a non-profit, which is what he always wanted to do. It's just not enough.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Now on Amazon Prime: The Florida Project (2017)

The Florida Project (2017) - Directed by Sean Baker; Written by Sean Baker, Chris Bergoch; Starring Brooklyn Prince, Bria Vinaite, Willem Dafoe.

By Kenny Howell

Sean Baker likes to take you to places you rarely see in cinema.

Not to some crazy monster world or anything like that, real people, sometimes living on the fringes, just trying to get by or exist.

That is true of The Florida Project, his follow up to the iPhone filmed Tangerine from a few years back. It takes place almost entirely in a hotel called The Magic Castle, primarily populated by people who have nowhere else to go. The name comes from its proximity to Disney World, which confuses at least one potential guest. It is run by Bobby (Willem Dafoe), a very patient man who tries to accommodate these people who just need a roof over their head. Within reason at least. He has a breaking point, but you really have to push him to get there.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Now on Netflix: A Series of Unfortunate Events, Season 2 (2018)

A Series of Unfortunate Events, Season 2 (2018) - Written by Daniel Handler as Lemony Snicket; Directed by Allan Arkush; Starring Neil Patrick Harris, Patrick Warburton, Malina Weissman, Louis Hynes, K. Todd Freeman, Presley Smith, Lucy Punch, Nathan Fillion, David Alan Grier, Kerri Kenney.

By Emily Haile

In its second season, Netflix's A Series of Unfortunate Events makes the book series come alive in a perfect mix of old and new elements. The show keeps the backbone of the books intact while adding new characters and subplots that are integrated seamlessly.

Neil Patrick Harris continues to be a chameleon in his portrayal of Count Olaf and his many aliases. Each character Olaf disguises himself as is clearly different than the next. Making Olaf come alive is a feat itself, and playing Olaf in disguise is even more commendable. Harris also proves himself to be a triple threat in episode 9 in the House of Freaks musical number.

Daniel Handler's writing as Lemony Snicket is distinctive and unique. He does a great job of adding one-liners and other new comedic elements that would have fit perfectly into the books. For instance, at the Prufrock Preparatory School pep rally it's revealed that the mascot is a dead horse. You can't beat a dead horse.

The major difference between the books and Netflix series is the prominence of adult characters. Book readers don't get an in-depth look at V.F.D. until later in the series, but this addition in the show is a nice change that doesn't interrupt the flow of the series. The scene at V.F.D. Headquarters in the Mortmain Mountains tugs at the viewer's heartstrings because we're given a glimpse into the volunteers' lives before they were sabotaged.

My favorite character to come to life in season 2 is Carmelita Spats, played by Kitana Turnbull. Turnbull captures the essence of Carmelita as if she jumped straight out of the books. There's a fine line between going overboard and being just annoying enough with Carmelita, and Turnbull does a great job keeping her right where she needs to be.

Another excellent new character is Esme Squalor, played by Lucy Punch. Punch's adaptation of Esme is perfectly villainous with a hint of comedy. Esme is first seen opposite Tony Hale, who plays husband Jerome Squalor, in the third episode. She begins as a supporting character but outshines nearly everyone else by the end of the season. Esme is particularly frightening at Heimlich Hospital.

The set design is exceptional as well. Anyone familiar with the books will recognize the locations immediately. From the tombstone-shaped buildings at Prufrock Prep to the staircase at 667 Dark Avenue, each location is designed exactly as it should be. Netflix brings the books alive in the best possibly way.

The first two seasons of A Series of Unfortunate Events are now on Netflix.

Rating: ***1/2

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Now on Netflix: Santa Clarita Diet, Season 2 (2018)

Santa Clarita Diet, Season 2 (2018) - Created by Victor Fresco; Starring Drew Barrymore, Timothy Olyphant, Liv Hewson, Skyler Gisondo, Mary Elizabeth Ellis, Natalie Morales, Thomas Lennon, Nathan Fillion, Andy Richter, Joel McHale.

By Kenny Howell 

The problems that plagued Santa Clarita Diet in season one are still there in season two. Also, it is still really funny.

The problem with Santa Clarita Diet is a big one, that Drew Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant are really miscast as husband and wife Sheila and Joel. That is not good since they are the leads and the majority of the show. Creator Victor Fresco has a definitive style, a screwball comedy banter mixed in here with very dark laughs about the undead and eating people. It's a very odd language, and Barrymore and Olyphant never really seem to get it, though Olyphant is a little better this season.